Interview with Director and Photographer – Marc Klasfeld

Marc Klasfeld is a veteran music video and commercial director with a career spanning over 20 years. Who has directed music videos for the likes of Azealia Banks (Chasing Time), Michael Bublé (It’s A Beautiful Day) Katy Perry (Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.), Birthday) and Sum 41 (Fatlip, We’re All to Blame, Underclass Hero) not to mention is the man responsible for the viral video sensation “Scarface School Play”. Apart from his own directorial work he runs his own production company Rockhard Films and has gotten into photography over the past couple of years.

DJ Cobalt 60: What made you want to become a director?

Marc Klasfeld: I really had no idea what I wanted to do when I was at NYU film school.  A lot of people wanted to make feature films, but I wasn’t one of them.  I was looking for something different that would inspire me.  One day I came across 3/4” director’s reels.  On these tapes were the reels of Mark Romanek, David Fincher, Tarsem Singh, Spike Jonze and more.  I didn’t realize one could have a reel, or a career, in music videos.  I instantly fell in love and knew what I wanted to do. 

DJ Cobalt 60: Once you decided to be a music video director how did you go about breaking into the industry?

Marc Klasfeld: I started to use the film school’s equipment to make music videos.  The budgets were really low, but I was very creative about making no money look expensive.  I did everything – Direct, but also produce, AD, edit, DP, art direct.  It was such a great learning experience.  I created my own reel and just kept working my way up and honing my craft. 

2 Chainz (left) alongside Marc Klasfeld

DJ Cobalt 60: Do you think someone could still break in the same you did nowadays?

Marc Klasfeld: Unfortunately, no.  The walls of the entire entertainment industry have broken down.  Now anyone with an iPhone can get into the industry.  Sure, it is very democratizing, but it has also decimated the industry itself.  It is impossible to earn a living from music videos anymore.  All the great production companies have gone out of business.  Most directors I know are sadly broke and really struggling.  Only a select few can even get a budget of note.  And most young directors have no way of moving up as there is nothing to move up to. 

I read a quote when Bowie passed away about how he predicted the music industry changing.  “Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity. So it’s like, just take advantage of these last few years because none of this is ever going to happen again.”  That pretty much explains it. 

DJ Cobalt 60: How much has the whole music video process changed since you first started? I mean when you came up you had directors like the ones mentioned above coming out of Propaganda Films and rewriting the medium’s grammar and taking it to new heights.

Marc Klasfeld: I was lucky to have come in just at the tail end of the golden age.  It was a really magical time.  I look at it like the book “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls” looked at movies from 1969-1975.  All of these influential legendary directors were birthed and making their tour de forces: Coppola, Scorcese, Spielberg, Lucas, Altman, Allen, etc.  It was the same for music videos. 

There was money and creativity flowing in unimaginable ways. MTV also had a big role.  It created an art gallery mentality where videos felt special.  And everyone was watching the same thing.  Nowadays you have the opposite of all this. 

Sure, I wish the industry were healthy.  But society has also changed drastically.  Entire industries have been erased and replaced with an app.  You simply can’t look at videos (or life) in the same way that you did in 2001.  No videos don’t hold the same cultural weight they once did, nor do the budgets lend themselves to creative filmmaking or anyone making decent money.  But videos at their core are still a lot of fun to make.  There aren’t many things in life that are just pure fun like videos can be.

DJ Cobalt 60: A lot of your early music videos were for Hip Hop and RnB artists since then you’ve directed music videos for pretty much every type of artists you can think of ranging from Tom Jones to Slipknot, are you open to working with any kind of artist or band? Is it more about challenging yourself? Or does it just come down to you liking different styles of music?

Marc Klasfeld: I started out with an eclectic reel to match my tastes: rap, rock, punk, pop…I even did a video for a doo wop band.  But then I did a video for Juvenile Ha” which was my break out point and for a moment I did nothing but rap due to the popularity of that video and others like it.  I realized I was becoming pigeon holed and I worked my way out of it back into an eclectic body of work like I have now.  I enjoy all types of music and people and experiences.

DJ Cobalt 60: I got to ask about the music video you did for Alien Ant Farm’s song “These Days” I seriously think it’s one of the greatest music videos ever made. You staged something similar with the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ a few years back for their video “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie” but, not quite as audacious, staging a live surprise video shoot during some sort of award show or event is a daring and bold idea, do you feel you were more adventurous when you were younger?

Marc Klasfeld: It is always interesting to me what videos stand out to people.  Alien Ant Farm was a super creative group of guys who I miss working with.  We had such good times and made such great videos. 

These Days” was a very provocative video.  I used to engage in more provocative ideas before social media could ruin one’s career.  It is very difficult, perhaps impossible to create a video like that anymore.  You have to make sure you don’t upset any one group, so everything comes out very bland.  You hear comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock talk about this in comedy.  Social media and political correctness simply won’t allow what used to exist.  Needless to say, it isn’t the best time for art.  

DJ Cobalt 60: When I see you do videos like “Bossy feat. Too Short” by Kelis I kind of feel like your channeling Mark Romanek or when I see a video like “Floetic” by Floetry I kind of feel like you are channeling Michel Gondry, now Michel Gondry will be the first guy to say that if he is doing his job right his name shouldn’t really be the first thing to come to mind and as a music video director I consider you to be a bit of a chameleon able to tackle any genre but, would you say there is a Marc Klasfeld’s style?

Marc Klasfeld: I don’t place any “cool” or commercial value on any project.  I try to find the beauty in anything and everything.  I can work with anyone, from Big Time Rush to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  Not many people can say that! 

DJ Cobalt 60: Most of the directors you cite as an inspiration have slowed down from or only on rare occasions direct music videos, are there any new music video directors who you are a fan of?

Marc Klasfeld: I find inspiration from all sorts of places.  The bigger name music video directors get mentioned a lot, for good reason, but there are dozens of great video directors who don’t often get mentioned.  Some other names are Marcus Nispel, Stephane Sednaoui, Keith Schofield, Weird Al.  But there are so many.  I can enjoy the craft in any well-made video or find kitsch in the bad ones.   

DJ Cobalt 60: What’s next for you?

Marc Klasfeld: I will probably always do music videos, at least as long as my phone keeps ringing.  It’s something I love to do and I’m good at it.  But I do a lot of other things now too.  I’ve always directed commercials, I creative direct – and I have several other businesses which I run.  I also started taking photos in recent years and I have a gallery showing coming up which is really exciting. 

Photographer – Marc Klasfeld, Model – Katy Perry
Photographer – Marc Klasfeld
Photographer – Marc Klasfeld

DJ Cobalt 60: Your top 5 favorite films?

Marc Klasfeld:

A Woman Under the Influence

Dirty Dancing

Goodfellas

Rocky Horror Picture Show

Breakfast Club

DJ Cobalt 60: An Artist Dead or Alive you’ve always wanted to make a music video for?

Marc Klasfeld: Dolly Parton.

DJ Cobalt 60: For people interested in your work or would like to learn more about you or Rockhard Films where can they go?

Marc Klasfeld: marcklasfeld.com.

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